Fun With Kids & Nature: Vernal Pools!
Are the kids antsy for winter to be over? Are you looking for a fun idea for the family to get outside and welcome the change to spring?
Head out one evening to a vernal pool near you and introduce your children to an epic annual event. The massing of millions of amphibians to mate and lay eggs only occurs once a year. In the Washington DC area, this would be during mid to late February through March on a warm evening (55 F or above) during or after rain.
Vernal pools are special habitats that fill with rainwater in the fall, winter, and spring and typically dry up in the summer. Because these pools are not permanent, fish are not able to survive. Without fish to eat their eggs or larvae, amphibians such as spring peeper, wood frogs, and spotted salamanders are able to utilize vernal pools to lay their eggs.
A vernal pool is probably closer to your home than you think.
A great way to find a vernal pool is to listen for the loud, piercing “PEEP!” of Spring Peepers peeping, usually in the evening, but occasionally during the day as well. Follow the frog chorus and it will lead you to an area where there is probably a vernal pool or at least a wetland of some sort.
If it is close to dark, give everyone a flashlight or headlamp and head out. Once you arrive at the vernal pool, let your family know to keep their eyes and ears open. You may see see the tiny Spring Peeper frogs, but you are more likely to hear them. Larger and easier to see are Wood Frogs which make a call similar to the quacking of ducks. Spotted Salamanders are silent, however they are spectacular! They grow up to 8 inches in length, are shiny black and usually have rows of bright yellow spots on their back.
Kids may want to catch or handle the frogs and their eggs. Teach how to be respectful of animals while encouraging excitement about the natural world. Be sure hands are wet and chemical-free when handling amphibians or eggs. Be gentle and return any captured animals or eggs to the spot they were found. To stop the spread of disease among amphibian populations, when you get home be sure to wash hands with soap and water after touching any animals and disinfect shoes and any nets, buckets, or other materials that came into contact with animals, eggs, or the habitat with a 10% bleach/water solution.
The awesomeness of an up-close experience in the wild with amazing animals that only appear once per year is an activity your family will never forget.